A Georgia lawmaker's proposal would prevent educators from talking to students about gender identity while also ensuring that parents are not left in the dark about a potential change to their child's gender identity.
State Sen. Carden Summers, R, told the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Tuesday that he will need to rewrite Senate Bill 88, which is already on its second draft, following pushback from critics.
Still, Summers defended the primary focus of the legislation. He said a law is necessary to prevent teachers from promoting ideas about changing gender identity to their students and to stop teachers from hiding a student's gender identity change from their parents.
"We're simply trying to limit the exposure that person would have on a child regarding gender," Summers said. "That's where it's at. They're not supposed to ... talk to that child about your gender without permission from the parent."
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The bill currently states that school faculty and staff cannot seek or provide information about sex or a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity without written permission from parents. The measure also prohibits public and private schools from changing records of a child’s name, sex or gender without written permission from parents.
Some critics compared the legislation to parental rights bills in Florida and other GOP-led states that prevent teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation with students, although the Georgia bill is limited only to gender identity.
"The role of our teachers is to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for our kids, free from bullying and discrimination," LGBTQ+ advocacy group Georgia Equality's executive director Jeff Graham said at a news conference after Tuesday's hearing. "Bills that force teachers to out LGBTQ+ kids to their parents are extremist political stunts, that pit teachers, parents and students against each other."
The parental rights bill in Georgia is pending but has not advanced thus far.
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The bill would also require parents at public and private schools to opt their children into sex education classes. Currently, public school parents are allowed to opt their children out of these classes. Some parents in recent years have been pushing to eliminate sex education in Georgia schools.
Any adult overseeing a child in any public or private institution — including schools, camps, libraries and social service agencies — would be barred under the legislation from dressing in a "sexually provocative manner."
Summers said he is considering scrapping the portions of the bill on opting out of sex education and prohibiting sexually provocative attire.
Some education groups argue that the bill could prevent teachers from reporting abuse unless they receive permission from parents, even in cases when a parent is the suspected abuser.
Georgia Association of Educational Leaders executive director Robert Costley said the bill could also block teachers from answering questions students may have about sex education classes.
"This teacher is going to wonder, 'Am I allowed to talk to my student about a class that I taught?'" Costley said.
Costley purported that teachers are not "putting their own beliefs on kids" and highlighted a GOP-backed law signed last year that bans teachings about critical race theory.
"I don't think any educators going to get up and say, ‘Yeah, we want to proselytize kids,’" Costley said.
Georgia also enacted laws last year that guarantee parental access to classroom instruction and remove material containing obscene content from the state's schools.
Violations of Senate Bill 88 could result in withheld funds from public schools, teachers losing their state licenses and the tax-exempt status of private entities being revoked.
Critics also argue that the bill would prevent teachers from counseling students with questions about their gender identity, particularly in cases where their parents may not offer support. These opponents said the bill targets students who are emotionally vulnerable and prone to suicide.
"SB 88 would act as a gag order and a very vague, very constraining gag order," the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition's Francesca Ruhe said. "SB 88 is a coward's attempt to target a demographic that is already persecuted enough."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.